17 July 2020

No obligation on legal heirs to intimate the death of the assessee to the revenue/income tax department

Notice u/s. 148 of Income Tax Act issued to the deceased assessee requiting details of finantial transactions made by him in the past - Income tax department contacted the daughter of deceased on phone - they transferred the proceeding on her PAN - order passed against her - order challenged in writ petition

It is well settled law that an alternative statutory remedy does not operate as a bar to maintainability of a writ petition in at least three contingencies, namely, where the writ petition has been filed for the enforcement of any of the Fundamental Rights or where there has been a violation of the principles of natural justice or where the order or notice or proceedings are wholly without jurisdiction or the vires of an Act is challenged. [See Whirlpool Corporation Vs. Registrar of Trade Marks, Mumbai and Others, (1998)8 SCC 1].[Para No.23]

No obligation on legal heirs to intimate the death of the assessee to the revenue/income tax department

Further, the fact that an assessment order has been passed and it is open to challenge by way of an appeal, does not denude the petitioner of its right to challenge the notice for assessment if it is without jurisdiction. If the assumption of jurisdiction is wrong, the assessment order passed subsequently would have no legs to stand. If the notice goes, so does the order of assessment. It is trite law that if the Assessing Officer had no jurisdiction to initiate assessment proceeding, the mere fact that subsequent orders have been passed would not render the challenge to jurisdiction infructuous. In Calcutta Discount Co. Ltd. Vs. Income Tax Officer, Companies District I Calcutta and Another, AIR 1961 SC 372 the Supreme Court has held as under:-
"27. .....It is well settled however that though the writ of prohibition or certiorari will not issue against an executive authority, the High Courts have power to issue in a fit case an order prohibiting an executive authority from acting without jurisdiction. Where such action of an executive authority acting without jurisdiction subjects or is likely to subject a person to lengthy proceedings and unnecessary harassment, the High Courts, it is well settled, will issue appropriate orders or directions to prevent such consequences.
28. Mr Sastri mentioned more than once the fact that the Company would have sufficient opportunity to raise this question viz. whether the Income Tax Officer had reason to believe that underassessment had resulted from non-disclosure of material facts, before the Income Tax Officer himself in the assessment proceedings and if unsuccessful there before the appellate officer or the Appellate Tribunal or in the High Court under Section 66(2) of the Indian Income Tax Act. The existence of such alternative remedy is not however always a sufficient reason for refusing a party quick relief by a writ or order prohibiting an authority acting without jurisdiction from continuing such action.
29. In the present case the Company contends that the conditions precedent for the assumption of jurisdiction under Section 34 were not satisfied and come to the court at the earliest opportunity. There is nothing in its conduct which would justify the refusal of proper relief under Article 226. When the Constitution confers on the High Courts the power to give relief it becomes the duty of the courts to give such relief in fit cases and the courts would be failing to perform their duty if relief is refused without adequate reasons....."[Para No.24]

This Court is of the view that in the absence of a statutory provision it is difficult to cast a duty upon the legal representatives to intimate the factum of death of an assessee to the income tax department. After all, there may be cases where the legal representatives are estranged from the deceased assessee or the deceased assessee may have bequeathed his entire wealth to a charity. Consequently, whether PAN record was updated or not or whether the Department was made aware by the legal representatives or not is irrelevant. In Alamelu Veerappan (supra) it has been held "nothing has been placed before this Court by the Revenue to show that there is a statutory obligation on the part of the legal representatives of the deceased assessee to immediately intimate the death of the assessee or take steps to cancel the PAN registration." [Para No.32]

Consequently, the legal heirs are under no statutory obligation to intimate the death of the assessee to the revenue. [Para No.34]

Delhi High Court

Savita Kapila
Asst. Commissioner Of Income Tax

Decided on 16/07/2020

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